Occupation of Haiti (jul 28, 1915 – aug 1, 1934)
The United States occupation of Haiti began on July 28, 1915, when 330 US Marines landed at Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on the authority of US President Woodrow Wilson. The first invasion forces had already disembarked from USS Montana on January 27, 1914. The July intervention took place following the murder of dictator President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam by insurgents angered by his political murders of elite opposition.
The occupation ended on August 1, 1934, after President Franklin D. Roosevelt reaffirmed an August 1933 disengagement agreement. The last contingent of US Marines departed on August 15, 1934, after a formal transfer of authority to the Garde d'Haïti.
Between 1911 and 1915, Haiti was politically unstable: a series of political assassinations and forced exiles resulted in six presidents holding office during this period. Various revolutionary armies carried out the coups. Each was formed by cacos, or peasant militia from the mountains of the north, or who invaded along the porous Dominican border. They were enlisted by rival political factions under the promises of money, which would be paid after a successful revolution, and the opportunity to plunder.
The United States was particularly apprehensive about the roles (real and imagined) played by Imperial Germany in the Western hemisphere. Controlling Tortuga, it had intervened in Haiti (see Luders Affair) and other Caribbean nations at several times during the previous few decades to exert its influence as a rival power. Germany was increasingly hostile to United States domination of the region under its claimed Monroe Doctrine. In the lead-up to World War I, the strategic importance of the island of Hispaniola, with its manpower, material wealth, and port facilities, was understood by almost all navies operating in the Caribbean, including Germany and the still-neutral United States. Germany had invested in military and intelligence gathering across Hispaniola as part of a wider network of German interest in Latin America and the Caribbean during the 1890s through the 1910s.
The United States' concern over Germany's ambitions was mirrored by apprehension and rivalry between American businessmen and the small German community in Haiti, which although numbering only about 200 in 1910 wielded a disproportionate amount of economic power. German nationals controlled about 80 percent of the country's international commerce. They owned and operated utilities in Cap-Haïten and Port-au-Prince, including the main wharf and a tramway in the capital, and also had built the railway serving the Plain of the Cul-de-Sac.
The German community was more willing to integrate into Haitian society than any other group of Caucasian foreigners, including the more numerous French. Some Germans had married into Haiti's most prominent families of "persons of color" (mixed race of African-French descent). This enabled them to bypass the constitutional prohibition against foreigners owning land. Nevertheless, the German residents retained strong ties to their homeland and sometimes aided the German military and intelligence networks in Haiti. They also served as the principal financiers of the nation's numerous revolutions, floating loans at high-interest rates to the competing political factions. Because of this, they were regarded as a threat to American businessmen's financial interests. The United States political and military leadership believed the Haitian Germans were tied directly to the government in Berlin.
In an effort to reduce German influence, the U.S. State Department in 1910–11 backed a consortium of American investors, headed by the National City Bank of New York, to acquire control of the Banque Nationale d'Haïti. This was the country's sole commercial bank and served as the Haitian government's treasury.
In December 1914, the U.S. military seized the Haitian government's gold reserve, urged on by the National City Bank and the National Bank of Haiti (which was already under foreign direction). The U.S. took the gold to National City Bank's New York City vault.
In February 1915, Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam, son of a former Haitian president, established a dictatorship. Five months later, facing a new anti-American revolt, he ordered the massacre of 167 political prisoners. All of the victims were from prominent families, mostly members of the better educated and wealthier mixed-race population with German connections. "President" Sam was lynched by an enraged mob in Port-au-Prince as soon as they learned of the executions.
The United States regarded the anti-American revolt against Sam as a threat to American business interests in the country, especially the Haitian American Sugar Company (HASCO). When the caco-supported anti-American Rosalvo Bobo emerged as the next president of Haiti, the United States government decided to act quickly to preserve its economic dominance.
On July 28, 1915, American President Woodrow Wilson ordered 330 U.S. Marines to occupy Port-au-Prince. Secretary of the Navy instructed the invasion commander, Admiral William Deville Bundy, to "protect American and foreign" interests. Wilson also wanted to rewrite the Haitian constitution, which banned foreign ownership of land and replace it with one that guaranteed American financial control. To avoid public criticism, Wilson claimed the occupation was a mission to "re-establish peace and order ... [and] has nothing to do with any diplomatic negotiations of the past or the future," as disclosed by Rear Admiral Caperton. Only one Haitian soldier, Pierre Sully, tried to resist the invasion, and he was shot dead by the Marines.
For several decades, the Haitian government had been receiving large loans from both American and French banks, and, due in part to the political chaos, was growing increasingly incapable of repaying their debts. If the anti-American government of Rosalvo Bobo prevailed, there was no guarantee of debt repayment, and American businesses refused to continue investing there. Within six weeks of the occupation, U.S. government representatives seized control of Haiti's customs houses and administrative institutions, including the banks and the national treasury. Under U.S. government control, a total of 40% of Haiti's national income was designated to repay debts to American and French banks. While this helped improve the economic stability and credibility of the Haitian government, it led to allegations that the American actions froze Haiti's economic development. For the next nineteen years, U.S., government advisers ruled the country, their authority provided by the United States Marine Corps.
- U.S. installs a president
- U.S.-installed president dissolves legislature and imposes new constitution
- U.S. Senate ratifies existing U.S. occupation
- U.S. imposes civil conscription on Haitian civilians
Opposition to the U.S. occupation began immediately after the Marines entered Haiti in 1915. The rebels (called "cacos," owing to the color of their skin, by the U.S. Marines) strongly resisted American control of Haiti. During the first period of the occupation, they received considerable support from the German government and entrenched German-Haitian elite. In response to this upswing of hostility, the U.S. government and its Haitian puppet regime began a vigorous campaign to disband the rebel armies.
Racist attitudes towards the Haitian people by the American occupation forces were blatant and widespread. Initially, there was intermingling of officers and the elites at social gatherings and clubs but when families of American forces began arriving, such gatherings were minimized.
Relations degraded rapidly, however, upon departure of officers for World War I in Europe; this changed the nature of the relationship between the races the most. The Haitian elite found the American junior and non-commissioned officers to be ignorant and uneducated. There were numerous reports of remaining Marines drinking to excess, fighting and sexually assaulting women. The situation was so bad that the Marine General John A. Lejeune based in Washington, D.C., banned the sale of alcohol to any military personnel.
The NAACP sent James Weldon Johnson, its field secretary; to investigate conditions in Haiti. He published his account in 1920, decrying "the economic corruption, forced labor, press censorship, racial segregation, and wanton violence introduced to Haiti by the US occupation encouraged numerous African Americans to flood the State Department and the offices of Republican Party officials with letters" calling for an end to the abuses and to remove troops.
Aside from the caco rebels, Haitian writers and public figures also responded to the Occupation. For example, one public figure, a minister of public education, Dantès Bellegarde, continuously discussed his issues with the event. In his book, La Résistance Haïtienne (l'Occupation Américaine d'Haïti), Bellegarde outlines the contradictions of the Occupation with the realities. He accused President Wilson of writing the new Haitian Constitution to benefit the Americans, and that Wilson's main purpose was to remove the previous Haitian clause that stated foreigners could not own land in the country. The original clause was designed to protect Haiti's independence from foreign powers. With the clause removed, Americans (including whites and other foreigners) could now own land. Furthermore, Bellegarde discusses the powerlessness of Haitian officials in the eyes of the Occupation because nothing could be done without the consent of the Americans. However, the main issue that Bellegarde articulates is that the Americans tried to change the education system of Haiti from one that was French-based to that of the Americans. Even though Bellegarde was resistant he had a plan to build a university in Haiti that was based on the American system. He wanted a university with various schools of science, business, art, medicine, law, agriculture, and languages all connected by a common area and library. However, that dream was never realized because of the new direction the Haitian government was forced to take.
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History of Leadership In The States